Stress in the workforce has become one of the biggest problems in business today. It has been called a global epidemic, with numerous studies encouraging businesses to be more proactive in helping their employees manage stress.
“Every day, people deal with stress at work or in their personal lives — or probably both,” says Cindy Ballog, manager of Health Promotion, Wellness and Disease Management for Medical Mutual. “That’s why it’s important for organizations to understand the effect it can have on the health of their employees, and what that means for the future of their business.”
With the high demand and fast pace of today’s work environment, employees at practically every level of an organization are dealing with some level of stress. By providing stress management resources, organizations can help employees be healthier and control healthcare costs. “Healthy employees are often happier and more productive employees,” says Ballog. “In many cases, turnover and absenteeism can also go down.”
Stress is hard on the body. There are the obvious and immediate effects, such as headaches, upset stomach and loss of sleep. But there are more long-term consequences. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, which makes it tougher to fight off illness, causing people to get sick more often. It’s also linked to high blood pressure, abnormal heartbeat, heart attacks, anxiety and depression. These conditions and others can worsen as a result of continuous stress.
According to Ballog, diet and exercise go a long way. “When your body feels good, your mind often does, too,” she explains. “People often adopt poor eating and lifestyle habits as a form of stress relief, but those habits just make the symptoms worse.” Exercise is another important factor. Just 30 minutes of exercise a day can have a significant impact on stress. Even at work, when feasible, Ballog says employees should be encouraged to do things like go for a walk at lunch or use the stairs instead of the elevator.
Of course, each employee is different when it comes to stress, with different sources and different effects on their health. Some employers offer classes on relaxation techniques and managing time more effectively. Employees should also feel comfortable discussing challenges and asking for help, which can help reduce stress for those employees and ensure projects are completed on time.
“It can be difficult to eliminate all the stress factors in life, but everyone can find ways to understand their stressors and respond to them a little better,” says Ballog. “Helping your employees along in the process could help your business be healthier—both physically and financially.”
This article originally appeared in the July 20, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.